27 October 2021
27 October 2021 - Written by Veronica Sanchis Bencomo
Ecuadorian photographer Fabiola Cedillo invites us to learn and question the wide-ranging possibilities that technology and science provide to human beings in relation to reproduction across the world. Fabiola confronts us with the notions of assisted reproduction techniques and their impact on today’s life.
Human is an ongoing personal project that started from an existential question about procreation and the value of birth. In this series, Fabiola Cedillo looks to question societal expectations as a woman whether single or not, conceived naturally or thanks to science. Amid a series of images that depict laboratories, eternity, and intimate portraits she observes how Assisted Reproduction Techniques (TRHAs) raise other issues related to family structures and how this social dynamic is consequently changing our beliefs on the topic.
Hi Fabiola, it's great to be interviewing you about your recent ongoing project; Human. Please tell us more about how you began to work on this project and whether any personal experiences led you to research the topic of procreation.
I have always questioned family roles, the relationship between parents and children and also between siblings; I feel that while there are very strong ties that give you security and love, this relation can also bind you and generate a lot of pressure and anxiety. My interest in human reproduction has been in my head for many years, I remember that in 2012 I met Rosa in Madrid, she was the first woman who told me that she did not want to have children, at that time I did not understand that decision, it seemed very unusual that despite having a stable partner, she does not "need" to have a child, unlike in Ecuador, where it is "obvious" that couples are going to have children, indeed, many couples get married because "they have screwed up”. As they say around here - they got pregnant - here the children are the centre of the family.
Three years ago, I had an experience that made me reflect upon what is a child, where does the desire to have one come from? At that time, I offered to gestate my cousin's embryo since she could not do so, due to health problems, by then I had already decided that I did not want to have children, but I loved the idea of being pregnant and going through that process, it was then that I understood that the desire to be pregnant does not accompany the desire to have a child, much less the desire to be a mother.
As you have begun to research this topic, what have been the unexpected lessons you have learned from this wide topic?
This topic is constantly in my conversations, I tend to be rather curious, my friends and even people I have just met, I ask them questions related to their family, their wishes, their plans and, that is where I learn and I realise that many of my ideas are marked by the context in which I grew up, it is the part that interests me most of my work, when I learn on new stories, enter clinics, read, write, etc., I deconstruct and rebuild myself, I love it because the images come from this personal process, it is a mix of many ideas, I know that I do not want to tell absolute truths, but the result of my experience when facing this issue. These photographs and texts are loaded with my personal opinion. In this research, what has moved me the most is the objectification of the bodies of women who undergo surrogacy, the laws and powers that are handled around this. I consider it a cruel business in which they take advantage of the needs of women in vulnerable situations.
You mention in your statement elements of fiction like; Frankenstein have inspired you, how about religion, has this topic influenced you as well?
When I started with this project I wanted to portray the less human side of the procedure, reflecting that need to fill a utopian and idealised space, in which you can build a child according to your deepest desires and also the vainest ones, such as; choosing the colour regarding the eyes or the sex of the baby, I was interested in showing how children are also an object of consumption that should ultimately serve the system. The character of Frankenstein moves me a lot, its creator, Victor only sees Frankenstein as an object, the result of playing God, this story touches on points that interest me within my project, like; scientific morality, bioethics, creation and destruction of life, the relationship between science and fiction and how one feeds one and the other. In regards to religion, reproduction and religion have always been linked, now imagine adding the word technology, it is a very extensive topic, for some religion’s technology is an ally of God and for others, it is the same devil.
In your research are you specifically focusing on Ecuador, your homeland, or are you widening your project to other countries?
No, the investigation has no geographical limits, what's more, there are many stories within the project that occur in other countries, people with different customs, ways of thinking and feeling, I want to go after those stories and visit places where important events have happened related to what I'm counting. In my previous projects, I have not used texts together with the images and this time the texts are important to contextualise and support the visual narration.
Why have you produced self-portrait images? Could you elaborate?
Thanks to the patriarchy, it seems that mother and woman are synonymous in most societies as if that were the most important function for a woman. Since we are girls, we are given a doll to take care of and when we are adults we are plagued with questions such as; when are you going to have a family, when do you have a child? or phrases like; "the rice is going to pass you by", "a woman without a child is incomplete", and so on. Clearly, this theme crosses me, and my self-portrait appears in the project as one more story, in which I wonder if I should freeze my eggs if the instinct/need to reproduce will appear in a few years when it is no longer possible to do it without the help of science ... The self-portrait in which I appear on the screen of the ultrasound machine is a nod to this idea of producing a child in the laboratory with the genetic material of a single woman, this is called virgin pregnancies, it seems like fiction, but now "everything" is possible.
The project was selected and exhibited within the first PhMuseum Days, could you share what that experience was like?
I had the honour of having a solo show at the PhMuseum Days Photography Festival in Italy, unfortunately, due to the pandemic I couldn't be present, I would have loved to spend time with the other artists and visitors. Before the exhibition, I was able to engage with Rocco Venezia and Giuseppe Oliverio, together we curated the several elements that would be part of the exhibition. One of the ideas they proposed and that I liked most, was to involve the public who visited the festival; within my sample, there was a wall on which there were cards with different questions about reproduction, this invited people to give their opinion on this topic, I even had some messages on my Instagram about these questions and the sample, people were interested in knowing more about the project, that experience made me feel a bit close to the show in Bologna. I am currently planning to create a website for the project and as on the wall of the exhibition, I believe that a space should continue to be open so that people can comment or give their testimony, I think that this contributes a lot to the project.
All photos © Fabiola Cedillo, from the series Humans
Fabiola Cedillo is an Ecuadorian photographer and educator based in Cuenca. Her first book published in 2016 Los Mundos de Tita has been recognised and exhibited across continents. In 2018, Fabiola was awarded the “New Generation Prize” PhMuseum WOMEN PHOTOGRAPHERS GRANT. Follow her on Instagram.
Verónica Sanchis Bencomo is a Venezuelan photographer and curator based in New York. In 2014, she founded Foto Féminas, a platform that promotes the works of female Latin American and Caribbean photographers. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
This article is part of In Focus: Latin American Female Photographers, a monthly series curated by Verónica Sanchis Bencomo focusing on the works of female visual storytellers working and living in Latin America.
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